Five talking points from the latest Bafana Bafana squad
Stuart Baxter made six changes to the South African squad for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying double-header against Seychelles this month, and predictably there has been much debate of his selections.
KweséESPN looks at five talking points to have come out of the latest Bafana Bafana squad.
As you were
Baxter has made six changes to the squad that played against Libya last month, but is unlikely to change his starting XI much bar the obviously injury replacement for Keagan Dolly. It is hard to see who can break into the XI, bar one of Lebo Mothiba or Dino Ndlovu for Dolly, with Tau probably asked to play wider on this occasion. Baxter is likely to go for pace and quick transitions again against the Seychelles, even if this tactic brought little joy against the defensive-minded Libyans. He is also unlikely to want to change much for continuity's sake, having worked with the core of this team in the build-up to Libya, and now given another week or so. To try and introduce new players and new thinking now would make little sense.
Selecting on form
Baxter has gone for players in form, which sounds obvious, but not something that we have seen unilaterally in the past, where reputations have sometimes taken sway over an obvious lack of current touch. Mothiba has continued his good start to the season at new side Strasbourg, while Ndlovu has taken his tally to 18 goals in 20 games for Chinese second-tier side Hangzhou Greentown. His goals ratio is too hard to ignore, and while many are disparaging of the Chinese second-tier, is it really that much below the Premier Soccer League? Maybe a bit, but not by a lot. Lebogang Phiri has started the season well with Guingamp in France, Thabo Nodada likewise with Cape Town City, and Phakamani Mahlambi has looked lively in the few games he has played for Mamelodi Sundowns. Thapelo Morena has done okay with the Brazilians, but what he brings is game-breaking pace off the bench.
A case for the defence
The coach has clearly settled on his back-four with the players available, placing Rama Mphahlele and Sifiso Hlanti in the full-back positions, and the Bidvest Wits pair of Thulani Hlatshwayo and Buhle Mkhwanazi in the centre. The addition of Morena adds pace to what Mphahlele can offer at right-back, but the latter is the more solid option and is no slouch going forward either. The defence has not been a particular worry for the team in 2018 and there is no reason why it should be against lowly Seychelles either, so there is no real need to change for change's sake.
Whether it's because he is feeling the heat or he genuinely is nervous about Seychelles, Baxter has selected his best squad of available players. He will know that dropped points here might still not see him lose his job, but it will be the last straw for a public who have still not forgiven him for Bafana's capitulation in the World Cup qualifiers. SAFA might not have the funds to sack Baxter, but there can be no doubt that he is skating on thin ice and sometimes the will of the people force administrators to act. What he really needs is a couple of solid victories to take into next month's home Nations Cup qualifier clash against Nigeria.
Altitude is back
There are a number of reasons for taking the home leg of the Seychelles double-header to the FNB Stadium, where Bafana have played very little of late. Altitude is one, but probably not the primary concern for the side, who will have an easy exit from Johannesburg for the return leg in the Seychelles just three days later. All of their overseas players will also be able to fly into OR Tambo International and be immediately available for training sessions, without the extra travel on to another destination. The altitude should suck at the lungs of the Seychelles players, most of who hold amateur status and do not train to the same level as the professional stars of South Africa. Performances in the COSAFA Cup down the last few years have shown how they can start games well, but fade late on, and these two matches in quick succession will take their toll wherever they are played.